CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A 20-year-old Mexican man, responsible for the deaths of seven people after his smuggling vehicle crashed while he was fleeing from law enforcement, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison.
This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, along with Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Idelfonso Garcia-Benitez, from Michoacan, Mexico, was indicted on one count of conspiring to transport aliens, 14 counts of transporting aliens and one count of illegal re-entry after deportation. Â He pleaded guilty Aug. 22 to all counts as charged without a written plea agreement.
U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack accepted Garcia-Benitez's guilty plea, and sentenced him to 120 months in federal prison, and ordered him to pay $2,161,529.16 in restitution. In handing down this sentence, Judge Jack noted the loss of life and monetary costs that resulted from this crime. As an illegal alien, Garcia-Benitez is expected to face deportation proceedings after he's released from prison.
"The tragic loss of life in this case shows the very real risks that people face when they put their fate in the hands of a human smuggler," said Moskowitz. "Smugglers are notorious for placing personal profit ahead of public safety and border protection. They are driven by greed and have little regard for the health and well-being of their human cargo. All too often, that can be a deadly combination."
On March 20 at about 11 p.m., a Kingsville Police Department officer observed a pick-up truck run a stop sign. When the officer attempted to conduct a traffic stop, the vehicle fled, leading to a brief pursuit.
The driver crashed into a vehicle barrier on General Cavazos Avenue in Kleberg County that had been deployed by the Kingsville Naval Air Station. A total of 15 illegal aliens were discovered at the scene; seven had been killed in the crash. Garcia-Benitez was identified as the driver of the smuggling vehicle.
Garcia-Benitez was arrested at the crash site. He has been in custody since that time, where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
This investigation was conducted by HSI. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Miller, Southern District of Texas.